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Date: 5 February 2014. Fog.

Too many experts will tell you that all boats should have a GPS or two aboard. They are enamored with the whiz bang of electronics.  I am of the old school however and though I have embraced the marvels of electronics, it's the compass that is most used instrument aboard Seaweed.

Today as was forecast on the VHF the fog was pea soup thick.  I could see the bow rail of Seaweed but barely could discern the black snubber line down my chain.  It was that foggy!

This photo was taken after ten in the morning when things finally "cleared up" a bit.

The difficulty I had was in orienting myself.  Looking astern there was no movement of water aft so I was at tide change. When the tide switches the boat can float in most any direction, usually facing the breeze.  This morning there was wind.  Again, no clue.

The dolphin were in the harbor and I did hear birds.  Because the water fowl (cormorants, pelicans and seagulls) generally are north of me that gave me my first clue as to boat orientation. My eyes were not telling me enough and my hearing is not so great so I opted for Old Faithful:

Old Faithful is my compass. I rely on it when cruising.  Yes, I've got my paper charts, and even OpenCPN on the computer but the actual navigation is done by compass heading.  It's easier that way. 

I am aware that those with the full suite of navigation programs often voyage from way point to way point. After 15,000 miles at the helm though I'm comfortable with navigating via compass heading. I prefer the familiar, and grew up aboard a 40'er before whiz bang electronics were invented. My compass is dependable. It won't quit if I'm struck by lightning. Knock Teak.

Of course it is important to keep magnetic items away from the compass. I heard recently a fellow left Florida for the Bahamas and had a cruising guide near his compass. The metal in the spiral binding threw off his intended arrival destination by forty miles. Forty miles at five knots... well, you do the math. And yes, a GPS could have averted that by alerting the gent to his track.  But that's another article one of these days. 

Though my GPS is turned on when underway, it's mostly to confirm speed.  I'm still new enough to this cruising bit (approaching six years aboard Seaweed) that I'm not entirely accurate guessing my speed. Current affects SOG (speed over ground) and wind does too. The GPS is helping me recognize the signs that are outside and I will become more accurate with practice. 

Compasses are wonderful items and having yours easily viewable from the helm is critical. On days like today though?  Even if my new engine were installed, I'd go no place.  Seaweed is not in a race. I'm already where I want to be.

Do you have radar for foggy days and dark nights?
And, do you consider your compass a critical component of your boat?

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